The Underappreciated, Uncompromising Value of Dan Carlin
Dan Carlin is the embodiment of everything powerful about Irish-American culture and it’s intellectual gifts. The man is a dynamo. His Hardcore History podcasts are regularly at the top of the charts upon release, and his Common Sense podcast, now defunct, has enlightened me for years. I don’t say lightly that someone is a brilliant thinker and speaker – Dan is. He’s far too humble to embrace that mantle, but Dan has consistently put out probing, intelligent commentary on common sense solutions to bitterly divisive issues in the American political landscape. He may not be the only one, but if you forced me to I couldn’t name any other political commentator who was truly interested in careful thought and consideration rather than disseminating talking points.
For me, the greatest blessings of Irish culture are its thinking and writing. There is a fierce independent streak within the poetry, music, and literature that is willing to be romantic, gentle, and feminine while recognizing the brutal realities of life. This dichotomy reflects reality so well to me, and the richness derived from being willing to unravel that reality, whatever mess comes out is sobering, bemusing, and cheeky. Dan fully exemplifies those gifts. After being raised in the film industry in L.A., taking TV, radio commentator, and journalism jobs, and (Irish-ly?) continually butting heads with producers who demanded conflict and dissension between him and his guests, he eventually struck off on his own and started some of the first podcasts ever.
When I stumble onto someone like Dan, I have to pretend they have something important to say if I’m ever going to receive any wisdom from the work. My natural cynicism and egotistical self-aggrandizing have to go into a box for a while, and I’ve got to follow along with what this person is pushing at. I have to delve deep into where they are and embrace what they’re giving me. Maybe it’s Van Morrison, surrendering to the mystical. Maybe it’s Steve Earle, highlighting White trash tales of desperation and adventure, running moonshine on the backroads of Appalachia. Maybe it’s Thin Lizzy, embracing the irreverent robbery of colonizers, only to be betrayed by a lover. What is an Irish story? Tough, but tender as can be.
Maybe it’s Dan Carlin, with self-awareness, seizing on current events – trying to reconcile them with our American core values, and pushing on ideas until something snaps, only to embrace another pathway forward. The man actually thinks. He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, and has always encouraged vigorous debate on his suppositions is his message boards. He encourages people to come to their own solutions and inquire. THIS is the type of intellectual diet I need. For God’s sake, critical thinking is on life support in our fragile human psyches, and without it we are truly doomed. For me, Dan Carlin is keeping it alive.
Dan has a degree in military history, and is incredibly well-read on history and politics. He has helped me integrate my understanding of history, which I am a gigantic fan of, and has shone a light on the terrible practical concerns and emotional aspects of human political decision-making that rock our world every day. He holds up our principles when a story comes across his desk that violates them and holds me personally accountable. I said in my first Optional Irony piece, “Our Responsibility” that we are agents of the greatest experiment in human freedom ever, and we live in a context of participation in that experiment. What we choose to do with it every day determines the outcome of individual liberty for our species.
Dan no longer makes his “Common Sense” podcast. After demanding a political outsider for president for nearly three decades, far before it was fashionable, Carlin got his wish. It was granted in about the most Faustian way possible, and it’s left him stranded. He fully admits that this was what he requested…but wasn’t expecting it like this. His last episode, “For Whom the Bell Trolls” in May of 2018, has him struggling due to current events being unprecedented in history, and people’s attitudes regarding the political climate making him the target of scorn for attempting to be reasonable. He states explicitly that we’re no longer able to have intelligent arguments, rational discourse, or reasonable public debate and discussion.
Do me and yourself a favor – listen to Dan and see if you like what he’s talking about. I’ll stand by his intellectual side forever due to the body of intelligent work he’s created, and his ability to see sides of an issue that I didn’t even know existed. America and I need you to, and common sense needs you to also.